God’s Wagon, God’s House

“God’s Wagon, God’s House” — H

When I was a child, I loved spending time with Dad whenever I could. I could tell he treasured that time with me, too. He was a high school teacher and a freelance carpenter, so most of these father-daughter times took place in the summer when he was maintaining our property or helping someone with their home projects.

I followed him like a puppy. I did this because I adored him. He was a willing, patient tutor for a kid with an ongoing stream of curiosity. He would explain what he was doing and why, taking time to show me the most efficient way to use tools and accomplish the task. He’d take these opportunities to visit with me about our lives, about the world, and about the people around us.

Whatever this hero requested of me, I did. I trusted him. I knew what he asked came from his love for me. It was to teach me for a future need, or he knew it would lead to something I’d enjoy, or because he saw some immediate danger I didn’t, like that time he caught me in the act of making wings I could use to fly off the top of the swing set.

He sat me down and reasoned with me about the flimsiness of cardboard, the frailty of the human neck, and the reasonableness of various heights. He was right, of course. Test flights from the tree stump were a better plan.

I look back now and realize I was also copying him a lot. I watched him constantly. Whatever he was doing, I wanted to do the same. [No, he wasn’t a pilot. (grin)] I was his “little disciple,” really. He didn’t claim to be a Christian, but his deeds and ways did emulate Christ. I was thankful for his love and his discipline. Yet, not all of us saw his rules the same way.

I still remember the day he asked my oldest sister and her husband not to come in the house.

Why was he in the doorway, keeping them from coming in?

They were smokers, and they were drenched in the smell of it.

My dad answered their request for an explanation. “Both of your sisters are highly allergic to cigarette smoke.”

“Well, we won’t smoke in the house, then.”

“But, it is still on your clothes, and even that will make them sick. I can visit with you outside.”

“Never mind! We’ll just go home!”

They angrily went back to the car, and we didn’t see them again for a year or two. This incident comes to mind when talking about God’s Law.

Several years ago, I came upon Psalm 119.

v. 48) “I revere thy commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on thy statutes.”

v. 52) “When I think of thy ordinances from of old, I take comfort, O LORD.”

Then, I got to verse 97: “Oh, how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day.”

I took it to prayer, “Father, I can’t say that. I want to, but I can’t truthfully say that. If this is about all those ‘thou shalt not’s’ and strange commandments back then. I don’t even understand a bunch of them. What does it matter if our clothes are made with two different fibers? And, I’m a vegetarian now. I’m not even going to eat a goat, let alone boil it in its mother’s milk. A portion of these don’t even apply to our lives today. Yet, this writer is saying he loves the law and meditates all day on it. What is there to think about? I want to be able to have this enthusiasm for You, and the Psalms have been so valuable to me all my life. I want to relate, but this psalm is so foreign to my life. I don’t get it. Help me see what I need to see here.”

On one of our hikes, a while after that prayer, I was discussing this with Steve. As he does, he said something quite thought-provoking. When our own nation was new, we chose to govern ourselves with Biblical principles. When Israel was a new nation, they were needing to learn how to live with one another in healthy, sanitary, loving, and God-honoring ways. So, out of love for them, God gave them guidelines on how to make that happen. As technology and understanding have developed for humanity in most nations, medical and sanitation practices as well as neighborly laws have progressed to match.

Any new group of people needs to form guidelines of conduct – corporations, nations, clubs. Humans need laws to corral us into being civilized. The laws adapt as the group grows, but the reasons behind the laws remain the same.

When you look at Israel’s laws (past and present) and America’s laws (past and present), one can find similarities in them. Most can be categorized into the ten buckets over there in God’s wagon — the one that makes tracks overflowing with abundance (Psalm 65:11). Each bucket is labelled with one of the Commandments. The wagon itself is labelled, “Matthew 22:36-40.”

When I think about and study all the “strange Old Testament laws” in light of the culture, available tools at the time, and God’s ways, they start to make sense.

God didn’t give Adam and Eve a jumbo jet. He didn’t give Moses a hang-glider. He gave them Himself.

He gave us all Himself via His Word — His Law, which includes His Love. When I meditate on His Word, I do want more and more time with Him. I’m understanding the enthusiasm of Psalm 119 now.

However, there’s something new I’ve been chewing on as I wear Jesus’ easy yoke attached to God’s wagon. For the moment, there’s something in Matthew 25 that has been “a burr under my saddle.”

It’s Jesus’ story about the ten virgins. Those who were ready went in to the marriage feast with the bridegroom, but as for those who weren’t ready and came late, he answered the door and said, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

I’ve been pondering all sorts of questions about this story. What is the oil? What is the significance of the lamps, and what is the act of “trimming” them? What does “being ready” mean? What are we to “watch” for?  But, the hardest question has been, “That seems really harsh, Father. All the virgins waited and watched. All the virgins fell asleep. Yet, you knew only half of them? How could this be?”

I’ve been reading a book by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It’s called, “Boundaries.”  It’s a slow read, for I’m writing down lots of quotations from it in my journal. I’d like to share a few of those here:

p. 36 – “We are responsible TO others and FOR ourselves. ‘Carry each other’s burdens,’ says Galatians 6:2, ‘and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ This verse shows our responsibility TO one another. Many times others have ‘burdens’ that are too big to bear. They do not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need help. Denying ourselves to do for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ. This is what Christ did for us. He did what we could not do for ourselves; He saved us. This is being responsible ‘to.’”

p. 37 – “On the other hand, verse 5 says that ‘each one should carry his own load.’ Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry. These things are our own particular ‘load’ that we need to take daily responsibility for and work out. No one can do certain things for us. We have to take ownership of certain aspects of life that are our own ‘load.’”

It went on to describe how a person’s burden can be something in excess, a crushing boulder they cannot carry alone. Or, it can just be a “load,” which is the cargo of daily toil.

p. 37 – “Problems arise when people act as if their ‘boulders’ are daily loads, and refuse help, or as if their ‘daily loads’ are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry. The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.”

The authors go on to explain that in one’s boundaries, one needs to have gates to let in the good and to force out the bad.

p. 39-40 — “The concept of boundaries comes from the very nature of God. God defines Himself as a distinct, separate being, and He is responsible for Himself. He defines and takes responsibility for His personality by telling us what He thinks, feels, plans, allows, will not allow, likes, and dislikes.”

So, as I think on that, if I allow my neighbor his own personality and the autonomy to decide who gets to come into the bounds of his house that he built on his own land, why would I not accept that God has boundaries of His own for His own house He built on His land He created? I should extend God the same courtesy to think, feel, plan, allow, not allow, like, and dislike as He pleases. And, He’s given me the courtesy of writing all this on the Invitation to His house so I understand all this ahead of time.

So, when He and I arrive at His door during the marriage feast, could it be as simple as my having loved our Host and my fellow guests enough to have had the “smoke of sin” washed from me and from my robe before we are to go in?